2010 Acura ZDX SH-AWD Review

By Chris Haak

Acura’s new ZDX crossover continues a recent trend of attaching a four door coupe-like body onto the higher ride height of a crossover’s platform. The resulting vehicles often look kind of like unfortunate types of hybrids – not the kind that have a gasoline engine and an electrical motor, but rather vehicles that combine two totally different vehicle types, with both low-cut tops with a partially jacked-up body.

The ZDX’s shape – clearly an evolution of the design theme that Acura is hopefully still in the process of perfecting – actually is one that grew on me over the past few months, and even more so during its time with me. The shape is now what I’d call practical (more like function following form, particularly in terms of the loss in rear-seat room and cargo volume compared to the related MDX), but it’s clean, sporty, and reasonably attractive. In fact, driving the car, I felt like I was tooling around in a concept car rather than a production car, since the ZDX is so new and I’ve never seen one on the road before, and its shape is so different from other vehicles out there.

To my eye, the most interesting part of the ZDX’s design is the rear quarter panels and the rear doors. There’s a substantial arch above the wheel that blends nicely into the door on one end and the taillight on the other end, then the door itself has a nearly-triangular window. With the included privacy glass, it’s nearly impossible to see the door handle hidden in a black panel behind the glass. The metallic trim surrounding all of the side window glass also looks great and resolves it shape with an interesting point just aft of the rear door handle on each side. Acura’s designers did such a good job of hiding the door handles on the back door that my wife thought the ZDX was a two-door vehicle. We had previously owned a Nissan Pathfinder, which also has raised rear door handles, but the ZDX’s are basically camouflaged and did their job in fooling the eye into believing that they didn’t exist. She actually had to ask me if it was a two-door car (the cutlines aren’t that invisible!)

Of course, the ZDX also includes a refinement of the division’s “Power Plenum” front end treatment, but perhaps because the cheese-grater grille isn’t tacked on as an afterthought (as it is in the RL, for example), and because the grille’s sharp edges mimic the vehicle’s other sharp edges, it looks more reasonable. The aluminum-like highlights on the each side of the lower bumper (found front and rear, in fact) help to draw the eye away from the weight of the grille. Also, the ZDX’s rear end shapes and patterns very closely echo those on the front end, which is kind of a neat detail. As the ZDX is front wheel drive-based, it has a long front overhang, but the rear is my favorite end of the car anyway.

Those truncated rear door uppers bring us to the ZDX’s first functionality compromise in the name of design: the rear doors are almost too small to get into and out of the vehicle gracefully. It’s very, very easy to bang your head if you’re not devoting enough attention to the height of the opening. Then, once situated back there, you’ll find a very un-SUV-like low ceiling. It’s not ridiculously low, but rather than the headroom you’d typically find in a crossover’s back seat, your head bumps into a ceiling that is about the same height that a midsize sedan’s would be. At 6’4″, I can sit there, but my head is against ceiling unless I slouch or lean toward the center of the car. Rear seat legroom was reasonable, though.

The final way in which the ZDX compromises utility for design is the cargo area. It’s beautifully finished, with metallic accents, Berber carpeting, and is finished in generally the same quality way that the rest of the interior is. The cargo area is large enough to hold groceries, but the sloping hatch sacrifices the possibility of loading tall items into the cargo area (or loading large quantities of things, as you may do when packing for a weeklong vacation). On the side, there is a sizable underfloor compartment in the back as well. This compartment covers nearly the entire cargo area is hinged toward the front of the cargo area and is covered by a sturdy, latching lid supported by gas struts.

The passenger compartment raises the bar for Acura in terms of interior quality and design. It’s the first Acura I’ve seen with stitched leather on the dashboard and door panels. The entire dash isn’t covered in leather, but the leather portion is right under the driver’s and passenger’s noses. Too, even the parts of the dash that aren’t covered in leather are soft to the touch. Though the center stack is a bit button-heavy, each of the ZDX’s buttons and controls imparts a quality feel, devoid of unrefined “thunks” or clicking. Instead, they boast a silken, consistent feel throughout, whether you’re using the turn signal, wiper switch, or temperature controls. Another nice Acura detail is the way every compartment has a closure – the 12 volt power point and forward cupholder each have little garage door-like sliding lids, and the cupholder closest to the center console lid can be hidden by the center console lid sliding forward and backward over it.

Perhaps my favorite parlor trick in the ZDX’s interior is the magic buttons on the audio system. When the audio system is turned off, the buttons fade completely to black, with the sole exception being the power/volume knob. Press that button, and the other buttons come to life. To me, that’s as neat to watch as the “magic” Jaguar XF shift knob and motorized air vents.

I’m generally not a huge fan of Honda’s navigation system, but its large screen is always appreciated. I think I understand why Honda moved away from touchscreen inputs (eliminating fingerprints from the screen), and the knob works well enough, but I prefer Infiniti’s knob-button-touchscreen hybrid setup. The screen resolution is a little low, but it does accept voice commands and can re-route quickly when needed. All of the expected technology is present in the ZDX when equipped with the top-of-the-line Advance Package that my tester had. This includes XM, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, CD player, surround sound audio, adaptive cruise control, rear view camera, and Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS).

The adaptive cruise control worked very well, and – unlike in many other vehicles – allows you to continue using it even when the wipers are turned on. The ACC in my wife’s 2008 Sienna only works when the wipers are off or in intermittent mode, and when the road opens up and there’s enough room to resume the programmed speed, it nearly floors the accelerator, which of course wastes fuel (and alarms passengers). The ZDX’s system was completely the opposite in all aspects.

The ZDX is one of the first Acuras to feature a six-speed automatic (it’s also now installed in the 2010 MDX, while the rest of the lineup sticks with the one-cog-too-few five-speed automatics). It’s an excellent gearbox, with smooth shifts, fast kickdowns, and ratios well-matched to the ZDX’s weight and its 300-horsepower 3.7 liter V6. The extra ratios help both performance (a lower first gear is possible) and fuel economy (a higher sixth gear is possible), and the ZDX always seemed to be in the right gear.

On the back roads of my area, the ZDX’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive helped the tall car feel more like a sport sedan than an SUV or crossover. Honda makes great engines, and I believe the company’s V6s are some of the best-sounding V6s in the world, so it even has the right soundtrack for a back road jaunt. The steering wheel is fantastic – and the one that my tester had is specifically included only in the top-of-the-line Advance Package model. Acura calls it a Sport Steering Wheel; it has a very thick rim, but is contoured at various places where you’d want to hold your hands (at 10 and 2).

Although I was fortunate enough to not have to try the Collision Mitigation Braking System, the brakes had decent feel. Traditionally, Honda has skimped a bit on brakes (they did with the Accord Crosstour), but the ZDX’s brakes felt unremarkable. The ZDX, in spite of being slightly smaller than the Crosstour, is significantly heavier. Therefore, it makes sense that it has larger brake rotors, which surely also helps brake feel.

The Advance Package on the ZDX includes an integrated dynamic system (IDS), which is controlled by a dial in front of the gearshift. The system’s two modes are “comfort” and “sport.” I spent most of my time driving the ZDX with the IDS switch set to the “comfort” setting. Even in that setting, the ride is reasonably well controlled. Most 80 year old grandmothers would think that the “comfort” setting is too firm for their taste. The IDS is really a very sophisticated system, with magnetorheological fluid that changes its viscosity when an electrical charge is applied to it for instant firmness when needed. A similar system has been available in the Corvette for years, and now is found in other cars such as the Cadillac CTS-V, Audi R8, and Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano. When set to “sport” mode, the system creates a firmer baseline suspension stiffness and reduces power steering effort to lend a sportier feel on the road, but except in situations of extreme corner-carving, I felt that the comfort setting adapted well enough to most situations.

I observed fuel economy of about 17 miles per gallon during time time with the ZDX; that came from mixed driving but mostly city/rural driving and very little highway mileage. The EPA estimates the ZDX will return 16 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway, which seems to be about right.

The base ZDX starts at $46,305 including destination, but is very well equipped with all wheel drive, panoramic glass roof, leather seats (power adjustable and heated front seats), 300 horsepower 3.7 liter V6, power remote-operated liftgate, Bluetooth phone interface, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear view camera, and a six-speed automatic transaxle. Step up to the Technology Package for $50,805 (a $4,500 premium over the base model), and the ZDX includes better leather on the seats, navigation with real-time traffic and weather, surround sound, pushbutton keyless entry and start, and and iPod interface with Bluetooth streaming audio. The top-of-the-line Advance Package (no idea why it’s called ‘Advance’ and not ‘Advanced’) rings in at $56,855 (a $6,050 premium over the Technology Package and $10,550 premium over the base model). The Advance Package adds blind spot monitoring, Integrated Dynamics System, Collision Mitigation Braking System, premium headliner, sport steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, heated and ventilated front seats, and ambient inside door-pull lighting.

The gadgets included in the Advance Package are certainly cutting-edge (particularly the IDS), but $57,000 is a hefty premium to ask for an Acura, no matter how nice it is. Still, the ZDX I tested handled better than most crossovers I’ve driven (BMWs excepted), had a top-notch – if somewhat cramped – interior, and nearly all of the convenience features one would expect in this price class, for multiple thousands less money than a BMW X6. The X6 is a better driver, but the ZDX arguably looks better inside and out. Which one to choose is definitely a matter of one’s own value perception and taste; those same factors will likely cause many would-be buyers to move on to a more conventional-looking, more utilitarian vehicle. But when the Acura left the Autosavant Garage, I was a little sad to see it go.

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Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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